Economic Issues Take Back Seat to Syria at G-20 Summit

Obama meets with Chinese and French on final day in Russia.

President Barack Obama and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands before their bilateral meeting at the G-20 Summit on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Petersburg, Russia.

President Obama met one-on-one with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Friday morning to discuss Federal Reserve policies and China's economic reforms.

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Though discussion of Syria has been a top discussion topic at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, the top world economic teams have also sought to address the issues at hand while meeting in Russia.

As the United States economy continues to improve and the Federal Reserve tapers its quantitative easing policy, emerging market countries - such as Brazil, India, South Africa and others - are feeling the loss of investment and devaluation of their currencies. How to cope with that and other broader issues, such as cross-border financial regulation, are discussion points as the G-20 enters its final meetings.

[READ: Obama, Putin Discuss Syria at G-20]

"There won't be any big headline numbers or initiatives, but the conversation is important to at least try and get the analysis aligned and to enhance each other's understanding of what's going on," says Matthew Goodman, a trade and economics expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former Obama administration international economics advisor.

Goodman says there's no doubt - as reports have said - that President Barack Obama and other world leaders are spending a fair amount of time discussing what's happening in Syria and what to expect from the international community as a response to reports of chemical weapon use by Syrian President Bashar Assad. A working dinner hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin stretched for hours, with Syria very much a discussion topic, according to reports.

 

But leaders entered meetings Friday with the world economy on their minds as well.

"It's important for these countries representing 85 percent of the world economy to agree at least on what the challenges are, what the risks are and hopefully come up with some coordinated action," Goodman says.

[ALSO: Putin Remarks Pressure U.S. to Show Its Cards]

Tony Fratto, a former U.S. Treasury Department official under President George W. Bush, says trade promotion, pace of financial regulation and some world development programs are likely to be discussed, "but the only thing anybody cares about is Syria."

Ultimately, he says, the summit provides a backdrop for discussion, but there aren't likely to be any major announcements at its conclusion.

"[Cross-border financial regulation] is important, but these guys aren't going to be solving anything," Fratto says. "They will talk about it, listen to reports about the pace of it, and then they will recommit to moving forward."

He also agrees with Goodman that there's a lot of attention being given to coping with new Fed policies when it comes to emerging markets.

"This question of what the Fed is going to do with tapering is a big issue and has already an impact with a bunch of the countries represented in the G-20," Fratto says.

[READ: Obama Counting on Democratic Loyalty on Syria]

Obama met one-on-one with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Friday morning and will follow that with a meeting with French President Francois Hollande.

Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser, said part of the conversation between Obama and Jinping focused on the changing Federal Reserve policy and how China is moving forward with economic reforms.

"Part of having a balanced, sustainable path to growth is going to have to include a greater demand generated from within emerging economies," he said during the daily press briefing, according to a White House pool report. "China is aiming to do that in some of their economic reforms and we believe that's a trend that other emerging economies should take because while the U.S. economy can be an engine for global growth, it can't be the only source."

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